How to find a therapist

Dear Alice,

I am trying to find a therapist. I have to go in-network for my health insurance to cover it, so I have this long list of therapists, but I don't know anything about them. Do you have any suggestions as to how to go about choosing one and/or questions to ask? Is there a "Go Ask Alice!" answer I could read for this info? I found my last therapist through the recommendation of a colleague at work and another through my school's counseling service. Now I need to spread my wings and find a professional therapist on my own! Yikes!

Thanks for any help you can give me!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear Reader,

It’s great that you’re looking into finding your own therapist. Dedicating time to explore your thoughts and feelings with the help of a professional can be rewarding and helpful. That being said, the process of finding someone who is a match for you may be daunting. It’s good to keep in mind that just as you may not connect with everyone you meet at work or in social settings, the same can be true when meeting with a therapist. It can take time to feel confident and comfortable with a therapist but it’s a critical step as you embark on this work together. Read on for strategies to find a therapist and check out the Go Ask Alice! Emotional Health archives for even more information to help you refine what you’d like to explore with your future therapist.

It might be helpful to first think about what you’re looking for in a therapist — identity, expertise, type of therapy, etc. As you go through the list of therapists on the health insurance website, you might be able to sort based on these factors. If you have an established relationship with a health care provider, you could also ask for their recommendations. Finally, you can do a little research online and learn about a clinician's background, education, and areas of expertise before meeting with them.

In addition, the Finding low-cost counseling Q&A has a brief list of things you could consider when you meet potential mental health professionals, with a focus on low-cost counseling options. This might be useful in case you decide to pay out-of-pocket or just want more flexibility with therapists to try out. It’s also a good idea to contact your insurance company to determine exactly what mental health services are covered. If your insurance doesn’t cover what you need, you could ask the therapist if they have a sliding-scale policy (when what you pay is based on your income).

Once you've picked out a potential therapist, it may help to call or make a visit to their office. Some questions that may lend some insight into their credibility and the type of care they provide include: 

  • Are they certified or credentialed by any professional programs or associations?
  • What type of therapy do they practice? What can you expect from a typical session?
  • What are their areas of expertise?
  • Do they have experience working with the areas you'll want to discuss?
  • What are their fees? Do they take your insurance?
  • What is their availability and are they able to schedule appointments at times that match your needs?

Adapted from the American Psychological Association.

As you speak with potential therapists on the phone or in-person, listening to your intuition can tell you if this provider is a fit for you. Do you feel comfortable sharing with them? Do you feel supported? Do you feel that they’re a good listener? Do they seem comfortable speaking honestly? Are the surroundings of the office (the waiting area, neighborhood, entrance, paintings, furniture in the individual office space) putting you at ease or is the environment not quite right for you (this may sound inconsequential, but it can affect your experience)? Do you feel there is a sense of privacy in the office space(s)? Thinking about all of this can help you determine whether or not this therapist could provide you support moving forward.

Remember, you’re collecting information to assess if this person is going to meet your needs and facilitate your healing process. You're paying for this service, so while you may feel intimidated or awkward asking questions, ask away! If you don’t connect with one therapist, you're always free to try someone else — nothing is tying you to the first mental health professional you meet. There are many compassionate and skilled therapists are out there. While it may take some time to determine who will be a good match for you, with some effort you can find someone with whom you can develop a meaningful therapeutic relationship.

Last updated Mar 18, 2022
Originally published Oct 10, 2002

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